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Titanfall: Expedition review

Triple threat.

For any shooter looking to hook a long-term crowd, the two-month point is crucial. The casual crew has already disappeared, along with those who didn't gel with the game's systems and options from the offset. Instead, it's about maintaining those who are waning: the players who have 'regenned' (Titanfall's prestige equivalent) a few times, who have toyed with every loadout, who have hunted for achievements and destroyed a thousand Titans. These are the people that will drive your game into cash-cow territory - and it's exactly the right time to give them another reason to keep logging in.

Most shooters placate these players with maps, as Respawn has chosen to here. It could be argued, however, that Titanfall doesn't need maps - it needs modes. The core systems are so strong and engaging that the arenas on which these dual-tiered battles are waged feel almost interchangeable; the real stories in Titanfall occur not thanks to architecture but thanks to tech. And with only a handful of options and rulesets to explore, there's a feeling brewing in the community that the game needs to offer more ways to play rather than places to see.

Perhaps that's a little unfair. The experienced team at Respawn has designed a collection of environments that both flow beautifully and scale tremendously. Remember, a Titanfall map does not have the same requirements as a standard shooter arena; when you can leap over the walls and double-jump out of windows, it's much harder for a map design team to craft a choke point or manage lines of sight.

The Expedition pack, then, offers three new battlegrounds for you to sprint and stomp around in, and all three maintain the excellence that has already been demonstrated by Titanfall's existing 15 maps.

Runoff isn't exciting to look at, but it's well designed and cleverly structured.

Let's get the least interesting out of the way first. Runoff is set in some sort of water plant that you've seen a thousand times before and is about as visually arresting as that sounds. Think blocky buildings, rusty textures, pipes, grates and harsh lines. It's strikingly similar to Training Ground in looks, again concentrating around a large central area with more open, free-form areas on either side.

Much like Training Ground, you can get to the center at speed on zip-lines, but in Runoff you can also traverse the edges of the map at elevation, free-running through a reasonably complicated set of vertical mesh walls. As with most Titanfall maps, there are three points of entry for each side in a Last Titan Standing match, so it lends itself to typical flanking tactics.

Thankfully, things start to get far more interesting once you've finished your first game on Runoff, because Expedition plays host to two of the game's strongest and prettiest maps. In Swampland, pilots can leap between the trees like ninjas as they navigate this complicated, asymmetric and vertiginous forest. The comparisons to Endor are obvious, with Ewoks and Landspeeders replaced by cloaked snipers and fast-moving Striders.

Swampland is a map that will take time to figure out. At a basic level it shares structural similarity to Fracture, thanks to its open areas and scattered buildings, but the flow of battle is changed completely by the presence of the trees. Skilful pilots can quickly traverse the map by leaping from trunk to trunk, and those with the Extended Parkour ordnance can wall-hang at great heights, picking off irritated pilots below as they camp in the branches.

The Endor comparisons are obvious on Swampland. No annoying teddies here though.

Unfortunately, the range of effects and geometry in Swampland do not do the Xbox One version of the game any favours. When Titans and pilots collide in the centre of the map, the frame-rate can dip into single figures - it's the most brutal hit to the engine outside of the central plaza in Corporate. For a game that lives by its fluidity and responsiveness, the Xbox One version really isn't up to scratch at this time. It's a testament to the game's quality that it can largely overcome these technical hitches, but it's hard to feel proud of your next-gen box when it's stuttering worse than Street Fighter 2 on the SNES.

Hopefully, the now Kinect-free future for Xbox One (and the fact Respawn has promised as such) will mean a Titanfall update to help to smooth the refresh rate and get the performance where it should be for a game of this stature. Thankfully, such issues don't affect Expedition's most interesting map, War Games.

Unlike all other matches, you don't begin your battle on War Games in a dropship, instead being digitally wired into a simulation machine. 15 or so seconds later, you're zapped into a gleaming digital environment, part Tron, part Metal Gear VR Mission. It's an arresting aesthetic, backed up by the fact that downed enemies don't crumple to the floor as usual, but instead digitally disintegrate into the ether.

At first, War Games feels confused - an unusual number of dead ends and awkward corners disrupt the flow that Titanfall prides itself on. Play a game of Capture The Flag on War Games, though, and suddenly it all becomes clear. The map is defined at a fundamental level by two huge elevated tunnels, consisting of a pair of parallel walls constructed from translucent electronic grids, one blue and one orange.

The change of death animation in War Games is a clever touch.

These let players elegantly wall-run across the map at great speed, but the fact they're translucent means other players can immediately see an opponent when they're travelling through these tunnels and capitalise on their vulnerability.

It makes for fantastic games of CTF, with those who navigate and dominate these tunnels in the strongest position for victory. As always in Titanfall, though, the tide of battle can be shifted with well coordinated Titan drops. A team with a posse of mechs can disrupt even the wiliest tunnel-runners.

All three maps scale beautifully across the different modes. There are enough confined areas and interesting interiors to satisfy Attrition and Pilot Hunter players, the capture points in Hardpoint are all well considered and feature the typical myriad entry points, and there's enough room on every map for a good, chunky game of Last Titan Standing.

As the first instalment of the Titanfall Season Pass, Expedition is very good indeed, if a little bare. There's no common theme running through these arenas, just a trio of new locations in which to execute robotic carnage. Keen players will hope for new game modes and perhaps new weapons and loadout options as the game continues into its adolescence - and of course, that needed performance boost on Xbox One.

Until then, Expedition will satisfy those who've spent the past two months regenning, arc mining and "standing by", and is further proof (if any were needed) that Respawn is rather good at this whole first-person shooter thing.

8 / 10